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One of the reasons the teenage years are so agonizing is that in most societies, particularly ours, the adolescent is emotionally neither fish nor fowl.
—Dr. Herbert Strean and Lucy Freeman,
Our Wish to Kill: The Murder in All Our Hearts
One may as well begin with my letters to one Adam State.
August 25, Verona
Well, you were right—the only way to really look at Italy is to stop gaping at all the Catholicism and just sit down and have some coffee. For the past couple of hours I've just been sitting and sipping. It's our last day in Verona, and my parents of course want to visit one hundred thousand more art galleries so they can come home with a painting to point at, but I'm content to just sit in a square and watch people in gorgeous shoes walk by. It's an outdoor cafe, of course.
The sun is just radiant. If it weren't for my sunglasses I'd be squinting. I tried to write a poem the other day called "Italian Light" but it wasn't turning out so well and I wrote it on the hotel stationery so the maid threw it out by mistake. I wonder if Dante was ever suppressed by his cleaning lady. So in any case after much argument with my parents over whether I appreciated them and Italy and all my opportunities or not, I was granted permission—thank you, O Mighty Exalted Ones—to sit in a cafe while they chased down various objets d'art. I was just reading and people-watching for a while, but eventually I figured I'd better catch up on my correspondence. With all the caffeine in me it was either that or jump in the fountain like a Fellini movie I saw with Natasha once. You know Natasha, right, Natasha Hyatt? Long hair, dyed jet-black, sort of vampy-looking?
I stumbled upon an appropriate metaphor as I looked for reading material in the hotel bookstore. Scarcely more than a magazine stand, actually—as always, I brought a generous handful of books with me to Italy thinking it would be more than enough to read, and as always, I finished two of them on the plane and the rest of them within the first week. So there I was looking through the bare assortment of English-language paperback pulp for anything of value. I was just about to add, if you can believe it, a Stephen Queen horror novel to my meager stack of mysteries, when it hit me: Is this what next year will be like? Do I have enough around me of interest, or will I find myself with nothing to do in a country that doesn't speak my language? I don't mean to sound like Salinger's phony-hating phony or anything, but at times at Roewer it seems that everybody's phony and brain-dead and that if it weren't for my friends and the few other interesting people I'd go crazy for nothing to do. To me, you're one of the "few other interesting people." I know we don't know each other very well and that you probably find it strange that I'm writing to you, if you're even reading this, but I really enjoyed the conversations we had toward the end of the year—you know, about how stupid school was, and about some books, and about your own trip to Italy. You were one of the non-brain-dead non-phonies around that place. I felt—I don't know a connection or something. Well, luckily I'm running out of room on this aerogram, which is probably a good thing, but I'll seal this before I change my mind.
PS. Sorry about the espresso stain. All the waiters here are gorgeous, but clumsy and probably gay.
September 1, Florence
If writing one letter to you was presumptuous, what is two letters? It's just that I feel you'd be the only one who'd understand what I'm thinking right now, and besides I've already written everybody else too many letters and I have all this caffeinated energy on my hands, as I said last time.
But in any case, the only person who'd really get what I want to say is you, because this relates to the hotel bookstore metaphor I told you about before. Yesterday, when viewing Michelangelo's David I had the exact opposite metaphorical experience. I mean, I had of course seen the image of David 18 million times, so I wasn't expecting much—sort of like when I saw the Mona Lisa last summer. I stood in line, took a look, and thought, Yep, that's the Mona Lisa all right.
It was huge. From head to toe he was simply enormous, and I don't just mean statuesque (rim shot!) but enormous like a sunset, or like an idea you can at best only half comprehend. It simply took my breath away. I walked around and around it, not because I felt I had to, but because I felt like it deserved that much attention from me. I found myself looking at each individual part closely, rather than the entire thing, because if I looked at the entire thing it would be like staring at the sun. It was such an unblinking portrayal of a person that it rose above any hackneyed hype about it. It flicked away all my cynicism about Seeing Art without flinching and just made me look. I walked out of there thinking, Now I am older.
But it wasn't until I finished one of my hotel-lobby mysteries that night that I thought of my experience metaphorically. Unlike bringing books to Italy, I went to see David anticipating an empty, manufactured experience; instead I found a real experience, and a new one. I didn't think I'd have any new experiences left, once sobriety and virginity took flight. Perhaps that is what next year will hold for me. Not sobriety and virginity, but real new experiences. Maybe in writing to you, a new person in my life, I will embark on something new, as well. David has filled me with hope. And another biblical name fills me with hope as well: yours. Out of room again.
Excerpted from The Basic Eight by Daniel Handler
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